Becoming a Dog Trainer
A career as a dog obedience trainer is a great option for anyone who is interested in spending their days working with both animals and people. Trainers work directly with dogs, but they also work with their owners, helping them learn how to better handle their canine companions. It does take some specific skills and experience with animals to become a dog trainer, but there are no formal requirements, so you can craft your own path into this exciting and rewarding career.
What Do Dog Trainers Do?
Dog trainers train animals, but an even bigger role they play is in educating and training dog owners. They help owners learn how to manage and train their pets. They may help an owner housebreak a puppy, practice obedience with their dog, train to pass the Canine Good Citizen test or train to become a therapy dog.
Some trainers do more specialized work, training dogs for police work, for search and rescue, or for other specific tasks and jobs. They generally work for themselves and find clients through advertising, networking and word-of-mouth. The hours for a dog trainer may include nights and weekends. The work can be physically demanding, and there is some risk of getting injured.
Dog Trainer Programs
There are many dog trainers who learned their trade through self-teaching or through apprenticing with a professional trainer and learning on the job. There are pros and cons to each of these methods, but one sure way to get the skills and knowledge you need to be able to train dogs is to complete an education program. These are generally certificate or diploma programs that take less than a year and many are offered online.
- Penn Foster Dog Obedience Trainer Program. The Penn Foster program takes about seven months to complete online. It is an accredited school that offers a convenient and affordable learning option.
- Animal Behavior College (ABC). ABC offers both online learning and a hands-on externship. There are several courses to take online, but the program culminates in actual work experience, working with a professional trainer and by volunteering with dogs in a shelter.
- Karen Pryor Academy. This program is a mix of online learning, hands-on work and coaching with a mentor and professional dog trainer, and instruction in running a business. It takes about six months to complete and is offered in about 25 locations, mostly in the U.S.
- CATCH Canine Trainers Academy. Catch is also a mix of online and hands-on work. It offers a program through online courses as well as attendance at hands-on workshops. The syllabus is based on the standards set by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers.
After completing an educational program to learn the skills needed to train dogs, the next step is to gain real work experience. Some programs include hands-on work experience but others do not. It is important to get that experience in order to find clients who are willing to hire you to work with their dogs. Consider apprenticing for a period of time or working for a trainer to get more experience before starting your own business.
Professional Associations and Certifications for Dog Trainers
There are several organizations that professional trainers can join. Some offer membership and networking opportunities, some have certification programs, and a few also may offer online training, seminars and professional development courses. It is not necessary to join any groups or gain certification, but doing so can help you better market yourself to potential clients.
- Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT). APDT is a group of training professionals that provides members with advertising, advocacy, networking and online courses. It does not offer certifications for trainers.
- Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT). The CCPDT does offer certifications for trainers. They offer exams participants can take to become certified as either dog trainers or behavior consultants.
- International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC). The IAABC was founded in 2004 to help standardize animal behavior consulting and training. It also offers online courses and an exam to become certified.
- International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP). This group offers a few different types of certification for trainers, including dog trainer certification, advanced dog trainer certification and professional dog training instructor certification.
Outlook and Salary for Dog Trainers
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, animal service jobs are growing much faster than average job growth, at 22 percent. New animal training positions are expected to number over 20,000 in the coming years, meaning there are plenty of opportunities for new and qualified trainers to find work. The median wage in 2017 for animal trainers was $28,880 per year, but the top earners made $56,000 and more.
Animal trainers largely work independently, but they may also be hired by veterinary hospitals, animal rescue groups and shelters, or employers in the entertainment industry, preparing animals to appear in advertisements, television shows or movies.
Working as a dog trainer can be a rewarding career, with hands-on work that changes every day and never gets boring. There are multiple ways to become a dog trainer, but the important factors are learning about dogs, behavior and training, and getting actual hands-on training experience.